Finding a way to talk may be a practical necessity for Gaza

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Writing in the Toronto Star, Dr. Gabor Maté expressed the sense of despair around Gaza exquisitely. That's exquisite as in painful. Speaking as a writer who's written on this for 35 years, and still hopes to find lifelong Jewish friends among my readers, I've never found communication so hard. I don't mean agreement, I mean the simple ability to engage among people of goodwill.

This despair is greater regarding Jews in Canada than in the U.S., where a limited but perceptible critique of Israeli policy has emerged not just on the "left" but in the mainstream. There's nothing parallel here. Stephen Harper seems to have recruited the self-identified Jewish vote (which doesn't mean all Jews) with a blanket call to support anything Israel does. I have no idea why that works so effectively in Canada.

Our local despair obviously pales compared to despair in Israel/Palestine. It's been a cliché to say Jewish criticism thrives in Israel, compared to here. But that's now less true. When Jewish vigilantes kidnapped an innocent Palestinian teen and burned him alive, there was wide disapproval but not the stark horror one might expect given the images that come to mind (Jews burned at the stake by the Inquisition, or gassed). Something has shifted in Israeli discourse. Dehumanization sets in insidiously, not just of the Other but of oneself.

It's also a cliché that anyone's who's lived the experience of many Palestinians could easily (though not necessarily) become a terrorist in response. Israeli leaders like Moshe Dayan and Ehud Barak said it explicitly. This week a 17-year-old Gazan emerging, literally, from the rubble, told Reuters, "I once dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today I am homeless. They should watch out for what I could become next." What I find amazing in his words is they aren't just a threat, they sound like a plea: Please don't let this happen to me.

Cynicism comes readily. When the U.S. Senate voted unanimously, 100-0, to back Israel's version, was there no one -- Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders -- who knew it was idiotic? But rather than deal with electoral threats from the Jewish-Israel lobby that would follow, plus charges of anti-Semitism, they cynically went along. Like Secretary of State John Kerry on Fox News one-sidedly condemning Hamas, but on a live mike before the show sarcastically mentioning Israel's "pinpoint" targeting and saying "we've got to get over there" to stop it.

I actually see this as "constructive" cynicism, which may simply show how desperate you can be for positive signs. Kerry and Obama seem to feel there's no point arguing with Israel, so just agree with what they say and try to improve things anyway, ignoring your own words. Hamas, too, has their somewhat cynical calculation: they reject an immediate ceasefire, which Israel accepts. For Israel a ceasefire means "quiet for quiet": back to normal life and no more rockets. For Gaza it means back to the "slow death" of blockade, insufficient medicine and food, no free movement -- so they say No, which means continuing slaughter under Israeli attack. It's a horrible choice but it's not insane -- or totally cynical. It's the kind of decision you might make in an insane situation.

For hope, maybe, there's Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gaza doctor whose three eldest daughters were killed by Israeli shells during the 2008-9 invasion. He's now in Toronto with his five surviving kids. He lives by the words, I Shall Not Hate. (It's his book's title.) You go to his house for dinner and there aren't just strong-willed Palestinians. There are proud Jewish Zionists, some of whom accompanied Stephen Harper on his solidarity trip to Israel. You think: this is the recipe for a train wreck. But somehow, due to Izzeldin's fierce, almost intimidating commitment to non-violence and dialogue, people do talk.

This may matter beyond just being nice to see. Israel isn't apartheid South Africa: a clearly unjust situation to almost everyone. Here, the "sides" are equal in numbers and the moral balance doesn't tilt as self-evidently as it did there. So finding a way to talk may be a practical necessity. It won't solve the impasse; that'll require other pressures. But it could, surprisingly, play a crucial role.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: manos_simonides/flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.